Written for the July 19, 2015 OUTDOOR LIFE section of the Dover Post, by reporter Jeff Brown, about new leadership in the Achaeological Society of Delaware.
Steve Cox considers himself a pretty lucky person: he’s taken a lifelong interest and turned it into both a fun and personally rewarding experience, one that others can share as well.
Cox is president of the Kent County chapter of the Archaeological Society of Delaware, a group of professional archaeologists and lay persons who have banded together to collect and study artifacts from the past.
But like many amateurs, Cox, 52, really didn’t get the chance to delve deeply into his interest in history until recently.
“I’ve always aspired to practice archaeology, but it wasn’t until about a year ago that I really got into it,” he said. “Now that my kids are all grown up, I decided to try it for myself.”
The root of archaeology is having an intense interest in the past, Cox said. His curiosity came to the fore while growing up in a home that was more than two centuries old.
“I was born and raised in a location that is steeped in history,” he said. “I liked roaming the woods and exploring and knowing there were interesting things below my feet.”
Once of Cox’s first finds was a shell gorget, perhaps lost hundreds of years ago by an unknown Native American.
Cox subscribed to magazines such as National Geographic and treasured author C.A. Weslager’s 1944 tome, “Delaware’s Buried Past,” considered by many the definitive work of the state’s early history as told through archaeology.
His interest took an active turn when he contacted ASD president Craig Lukezic, who invited him to join the group, which defines archaeology as “taking apart the ground in a meaningful way.”
To learn more, Cox audited an archaeology class at Delaware State University, and joined an excavation being done near Camden.
“I really learned a lot from that,” he said. “I learned a lot about the technique of digging and got a lot of hands-on experience.”
When the weather gets colder and work moves into the laboratory, archaeologists then examine and catalog what they’ve collected. That work, Cox said, often is overlooked by amateurs, who want to concentrate just on digging in the ground.
Like all scientific endeavors, archaeology requires dedication and not being dissuaded when there are no immediate rewards. It’s not uncommon to spend days laboring in the sun and finding nothing, he said.
But it also can be incredibly rewarding. With Europeans having inhabited Delaware since the 17th century, and native tribes long before that, Kent County has wealth of archaeological resources.
Conducting a dig is best done with the help of professionals, because the best way to get the full story of a site is to carefully map everything found, from coins to holes that might have indicated a building foundation or fence line to chicken bones from a workman’s lunch.
To get started, Cox suggests attending one of the Archaeological Society’s lectures, held on the last Tuesday of every even month at the Delaware Public Library. The next will be Aug. 25. Another way is to contact the group at its website, which has information about ongoing excavations.
Or, it can be even easier, Cox said.
“Just show up at a dig sometime and tell someone you’re interested,” he said.
“If you have a lifelong love of learning, this will definitely fulfill it,” Cox said.
“Someone recently came out of one of our lectures, just shaking his head, saying ‘I didn’t know there was so much I didn’t know.’”